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KAI RYSSDAL:There was an interesting announcement out of Goldman Sachs the other day. The oh-so profitable bank says it's not going to open its wallet this year to buy political ads. It's interesting, because the Supreme Court said corporations can indeed spend whatever they like on campaign commercials. But Goldman will still dabble in politics -- indirectly.
Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer explains.
Nancy Marshall Genzer: Even though Goldman says it won't spend corporate funds directly on radio and TV ads, it can still influence the political process. Goldman has political action committees, or PACs that can raise and spend money.
Richard Briffault is a campaign finance expert at Columbia University.
Richard Briffault: The Goldman PAC is free to make a contribution to any candidate for federal office.
Goldman can also make anonymous contributions to trade associations that want to deliver a political message. Paul Ryan is an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center.
Paul Ryan: Corporations can launder money through an intermediary organization in order to influence elections, but to hide from the public the fact that they're influencing those elections.
The result? Ads like this one, from the Chamber of Commerce, opposing the financial reform bill.
Chamber of Commerce ad: Sometimes it's hard to tell which is worse: This economy or Washington's recovery plan.
Now, not everybody's so skeptical of Goldman's pledge to refrain from spending its money directly on political ads. Fred Wertheimer heads the campaign finance group Democracy 21. He says, let's not assume Goldman is being disingenuous. But the company needs to explain exactly what its statement means.
Fred Wertheimer: We need Goldman Sachs to publicly say they are not going to make political expenditures from their PAC or indirectly through third parties.
I did call Goldman, asking for clarification. Their answer? No comment. Another unanswered question? Whether other companies will follow Goldman's lead.
In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.